TORONTO - Ontario's opposition parties reacted with disbelief Wednesday after Premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed a contempt motion against his minority government as "phoney" and blamed them for his sudden decision to prorogue the legislature.
"They consumed an entire week with a spurious, phoney contempt motion rather than do the people’s business," McGuinty said when asked why he shut down all legislative business until at least February 2013.
"They allowed themselves to be consumed by that phoney contempt motion."
The Liberals were about to face a second contempt motion for not releasing all the documents on cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga when McGuinty abruptly resigned Oct. 15 and prorogued the legislature, killing the contempt debate and finance committee hearings into the issue scheduled to begin this week.
"I don't know how the premier has the gall to stand up in front of a crowd and say that there's anything phoney about a motion that deals with taking $1 billion and, in something bordering on fraud, spends it to win political points and ultimately seats," said Progressive Conservative finance critic Peter Shurman.
"That's what was done, and that's why there was a contempt motion, and that's why, had parliament continued, there probably would be another one."
The Liberals say their decisions to cancel the energy projects will cost taxpayers $230 million, but the Tories and NDP estimate the real cost will be at least triple that figure and could even hit $1 billion. The opposition parties say the gas plants were scrapped to save Liberal seats in the suburbs west of Toronto in last fall's general election.
"I don't think anyone should believe what McGuinty had to say about why this legislature has been shut down," said New Democrat Peter Tabuns.
"The reality is this government has a lot to answer for, and the premier shut down the legislature so he didn't have to answer. It was extraordinarily cynical."
McGuinty also blamed the Opposition for delaying legislative business by repeatedly ringing the division bells, something they haven't done in months, and flatly denied he prorogued to avoid the contempt motions and more fallout over the gas plants.
"I prorogued because the place was becoming overheated and because the public interest demanded that we find a way to freeze public sector wages, and it became obvious that is not something we're going to be able to do through the legislature," he said.
"I blew the whistle. I said 'all right, everybody out of the pool. Let's allow the waters to calm.'"
The Liberals' draft legislation to impose a two-year wage freeze on nearly half a million workers in the broader public sector was shot down by both the Tories _ who said it didn't go far enough _ and the New Democrats _ who said it went too far. The minority government said it needs the wage freeze to help trim a $14.4-billion deficit.
The Ontario Federation of Labour lashed out at McGuinty on Wednesday for claiming he had to prorogue to negotiate a wage freeze with public sector unions, calling it "a flimsy excuse" to deflect attention from the power plant scandal.
"Your decision to betray the trust of every Ontarian by shutting down the legislature has left the government in disarray and undermined your own ability to deal effectively with labour," OFL president Sid Ryan said in a release.
The Conservatives released two new radio ads Wednesday designed to put pressure on McGuinty to recall the legislature and complaining he put the Ontario government on auto-pilot.
"Welcome to Ontario Liberal Airlines," says an announcer imitating a pilot. "We'll be heading to a high of 600,000 unemployed and flying through heavy deficit levels."
McGuinty repeated that it would be up to his successor, who will be chosen at a leadership convention Jan. 26, to decide when to recall the legislature. He rejected the suggestion he should leave office now and appoint an interim Liberal leader who could recall the legislature.
"Why would I do that," asked McGuinty.
The premier also said he was "delighted" deputy premier Dwight Duncan had decided not to run for party leader, which means he can stay in cabinet as finance minister at least until the new Liberal leader picks his cabinet.
McGuinty has told all would-be leadership candidates they must resign their cabinet posts by Nov. 23 before declaring their candidacy.